Ask the School Nurse: Exploring Today’s In-School Medical Care

Ask the School Nurse: Exploring Today’s In-School Medical Care

Kids spend the majority of their time in the classroom. How does their time in school change if they have a chronic medical condition, like asthma, or need unanticipated medical care? Decades ago, schools would simply hand out ice packs and send kids back to class. Thankfully, in-school medical care has advanced well beyond the occasional ice and Band-Aid. Michele Wilmoth, director of nursing, School Health Services at Akron Children’s Hospital, shares more here.


What is School Nursing?

School Nursing is a nursing specialty practice requiring additional licensure and certification. 

“We provide medication and resources, and function as the bridge between the health care provider, school and home. We are there to support the whole child and family,” Wilmoth says. “School nurses provide a wide range of day-to-day management of health needs so students can stay in school, healthy and ready to learn.”

School health includes first aid, illness assessment and triage, as well as assisting students with chronic health conditions like diabetes, asthma and seizure disorders. 


Why School Nursing is Important

Surprisingly, having a registered nurse to serve a school is not always guaranteed. However, research shows a link between student health outcomes and greater academic success. 

Interestingly, school nurses often are the first to identify an emerging health issue for students. Since school health providers are in the same setting as children for eight or more hours a day, they have front line access to observing children’s health. 

“Over the years we have made several great catches for students and refer students to primary and specialty practice providers,” Wilmoth says. “As a result of our astute assessment and triage, and referral, we have had students return back to school with diagnosed diabetes, asthma or underlying heart conditions. It is quite common for the school nurse to detect an infection or skin rash that needs further attention. 

“The school nurse is often the first to assess a student with an issue. We help the family recognize the need for further evaluation, which can lead to a diagnosis and treatment plan,” she continues. “The number of children with complex chronic health conditions continues to rise. On average, 2-3 students in every classroom have asthma.”


Care for the Whole Child

School nurses are able to provide information and education on a large variety of health topics like handwashing, ADHD, medications in the school setting, suicide prevention, self-injurious behavior, communicable disease and bloodborne pathogen training, head trauma and many others. 

Sadly, more than 25 percent of American youth are likely to experience a serious traumatic event by age 16, and many children suffer multiple and repeated traumas. Examples of common sources of trauma are abuse and neglect; foster care placement; parent incarceration; divorce; bullying; serious accidental injury; experiencing or witnessing violence in neighborhoods, schools and homes; homelessness; and treatment for life-threatening illness. As expected, a traumatic event can seriously interrupt the school routine and the processes of teaching and learning. A student who has experienced psychological trauma may have increased difficulties concentrating and learning at school and may engage in unusually reckless or aggressive behavior, potentially impacting academic performance. 

To help with the potential effects of trauma, school nurses provide support to help students grow both emotionally and physically in order to manage traumatic events. 


Connect with the School Nurse

Students most often seek out care from the school nurse themselves, but Wilmoth encourages parents to “get to know who their child’s school nurse is, particularly if their child has a chronic health issue. The school nurse is there to help; teachers and parents can and do refer to the school nurse if something is just not right and (a student) needs extra support related to a health issue.” 

If parents have a health concern for their child, Wilmoth advises the best way to communicate this to the school is by returning completed back-to-school forms with any medical issues included. 

“Call the school; ask for the school nurse to discuss any issues or concerns,” adds Wilmoth.

The future of school nursing will include recognizing the important connection between health and learning. 

“Students and schools need a school nurse,” Wilmoth says. “If children aren’t healthy, they can’t learn. I often describe it in terms of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: children who don’t have basic needs met — food, clothing, shelter, health — will never reach the top of the pyramid, (which is) their academic potential. We are there to partner with the school, to provide wrap-around support for students and families so all children have the ability to reach their academic potential.”

About the author

Michelle Dickstein is a full-time working mom of three. Her passions include food, family vacations, and helping others live their best lives. You can read more from her at or

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